Former Indianapolis Colts' GM Enjoying Ride to Playoffs With the Seattle Seahawks
Ryan Grigson Learns from his dismissal in Indianapolis, and is open to new adventures.
In early 2012, Ryan Grigson was hired as the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager. The former Purdue tight end and offensive tackle inherited a team that had gone 2-14 the previous season, but he was determined to turn things around. The results were immediate and dramatic, as the Colts went 11-5 in 2012 and made the playoffs. Grigson was named NFL Executive of the Year, and the Colts registered the same 11-5 record the next two seasons.
However, things cooled down in 2015 and 2016, when the Colts posted identical 8-8 records. Grigson was fired in early 2017, worked for the Cleveland Browns later that year, and was invited to join the Seattle Seahawks’ scouting department in 2018 by General Manager John Schneider. It has been a good fit, since Grigson has plenty of scouting experience, including two Super Bowl appearances during his time with the St. Louis Rams (1999-2003) and a third during his first stint with the Philadelphia Eagles (2004-2009).
Grigson has taken these good experiences — along with other, bad experiences — and learned from them under the influence of his own prayer and sacramental participation, the guidance of a priest, many books, and the support of family and friends. He shares here some of what he has learned, as the Seahawks come away from a surprising loss to the Arizona Cardinals, a team whose assistant director of player personnel is Grigson’s younger brother, Dru. Even with the defeat, however, the 11-4 Seahawks are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and can win the NFC West with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers this weekend.
Do you take playing against your brother Dru’s teams differently than other games?
It’s kind of odd because we’re very competitive and opinionated about everything else, but the last time we played, we didn’t even mention the game. I think it’s just a mutual respect because we’re in the same division together now.
Dru and I just go back n forth about family stuff most of the time. We send pictures and videos of our nieces and nephews (nine total), share report cards and some funny stories about them all. Even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like, I’m proud of all of them and I know he feels the same about my kids. Family definitely takes precedence over football these days in our relationship. It’s a nice break from the game, to be honest.
Some people are surprised at how well the Seahawks have done this season. What do you think of their season so far?
We’re a young team with a core of veterans that can change the flow of the game consistently and also provide a vital leadership component. Since I’ve joined this organization I have seen us lose so many key players and go through some growing pains, but we just keep retooling the roster, developing young players and pressing on.
That is a credit to the leadership of Head Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider that trickles down to everyone else and has bred consistent success for a decade now. It has been instructive and even cathartic for me to observe what a totally stable organization looks like and how the GM/HC dynamic is supposed to flow daily. Everyone in every crevice of that building is all-in, all the time.
Pete has a unique way of keeping it fun for everyone but bases everything on pure competition. If you don’t truly love to compete and embrace competition on a daily basis, then you’re probably not a good fit for the Seattle Seahawks.
Are there any odd/quirky things that help to make for a Super Bowl team that most people overlook?
I was just telling this to my kids the other day when they asked a similar question: It always seems like an unexpected team gets hot in the postseason. A lot of times I think it’s because those teams are having the most fun and just playing. They’re not tight or worried about losing because they feel fortunate to be there. Those teams that feel they’re playing with “house money,” so to speak, are downright dangerous just because of that mindset.
Staying healthy is always a huge factor in the postseason as well. You also need playmakers on your roster to win matchups and show up in the playoffs at crucial times. John and the scouting department have found a way to find those types of players late in the draft, after the draft with college free agents, and through some great trades — big and small.
With all that said, with the championship caliber teams I’ve been a part of since high school, it has always been about a shared vision and belief so strong that you could feel it. So just sitting here, I feel that is singularly the most important aspect of winning it all: true belief.
You had a successful tenure with the Colts that included a massive turnaround and three playoff appearances in five years. What have you learned from that and the experiences of the past few years?
I learned that I need to be a better listener — to press “pause” and just listen. I’ve kind of always ridden on my passion and adrenaline to get points across, so at times I haven’t been receptive to what people were telling me.
Sometimes you can feel so strongly about something but still end up being wrong. That’s humbling, so I feel with just going from a 30-something GM to now an almost 50-year-old football guy with all those experiences under my belt, I’m able to reflect and be better if there is a next time as GM.
Experience truly is the best teacher and I learned a ton in those five years with the Colts and really a ton more in my short stint in Cleveland and since being in Seattle. There are some mistakes and regrets but I have held onto the faith of a mustard seed no matter how hard things ever got.
My faith and the loving support of my family have surely lifted me up through my weaknesses, failings and disappointments. I really don’t deserve my family, especially my wife Cynthia who has stood by me with fierce loyalty and love, no matter what.
Are there any new additions to the family since our first interview from January of 2015?
No. Jonah was born right around the time of that interview. I think we were preparing for our playoff game with the Broncos then, but he is now five. It’s funny because he came at such a crazy time and is six years younger than our second-youngest. We actually bought a puppy like a week before we found out we were expecting, so that made it extra wild.
Jonah is such a gift and God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Our God is the God of miracles, so I never will put him in a box and say it’s impossible at our age, but like I tell some of our friends, we’re not trying to be Abraham and Sarah over here.
Is your devout grandmother (about whom you spoke in our last interview) still alive?
She sure is. My 96-year-old Polish-American grandmother actually flew out to visit recently. She said it’s the last time she’s going to fly out, but she said that the last few times, so we found that amusing.
My grandmother is still such an inspiration to me and my whole family. It’s so neat that they all get to be in her presence and just hear her words of wisdom. She grew up on the southeast side of Chicago during the Great Depression and has such great views for my kids to hear.
My grandmother wastes nothing and is so consistent with prayer and exercising her faith through works, not just talk. It’s a balance you see with her: She uses no walker or cane and constantly exercises her brain with crosswords, puzzles and other games. She really is living proof that “God helps those that help themselves.”
I really have tried to measure up to her my whole life — to her toughness, discipline, work ethic and the consistent way she prays. She is the definition of a prayer warrior and I know it in my bones that without her constant prayers and supplication I would not have been in the positions in life that I’ve been blessed to be in.
You mentioned being traditional in our last interview, so I wondered if you have read any books from Refuge of Sinners Publishing, based in Indiana, which reprints Catholic classics.
I’ve read a lot the last few years, but have not yet read anything from Refuge of Sinners that I’m aware of. However, I did read the type of thing they would print: Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
That was a super quick read that proves good things come in small packages. I actually just sent a copy of Uniformity to a Catholic GM in the league. It helps to imprint inside you that, in one sense at least, the only prayer is the one to say when waking up and throughout the day: “I’m here to do your will, Lord. Grant me the grace necessary for that.” If you’re not doing His will, then how can anything you do be truly blessed or worthwhile in the end?
It’s something I always knew but Uniformity really put it in perspective with its awesome simplicity and power. Like many of the saints exclaimed in that little book, you can’t make God any happier in anything you do more than just striving to do His will and taking all that happens as coming from his hands.
Have you been on any retreats or pilgrimages recently?
I used to watch a lot of EWTN with my grandmother and actually went to a televised Mass down in Alabama when scouting there. I would alert my dear friend and boss from the Eagles, who has since passed on. He would always say how big I looked on TV — and not in a flattering way, I might add.
I haven’t been on any retreats but I have taken a more disciplined approach to my faith the last few years, trying to make Mass and the other sacraments a true priority. It really does my heart good when one of my teenagers says “Dad, what time are we going to Mass on Sunday?” They have so many activities and interests, but planning them around Mass shows they’re making it a priority in their lives as well.
I find it so ironic that we as families sit at CYO games or watch NFL games all day Sunday, but many times don’t factor in Mass. We all need to be better as parents and buck this mindset. How can our kids, or our families in general, be strong and grow as Christians if we aren’t making Mass a priority? I know things can get busy in our world today but with Saturday Vigil and the MassTimes app (which I use often on the road), it’s not hard to find a place and time to go. I mean, the early Christians risked their lives to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist!
Children live what they learn at home, so how do we expect them to be good Christians if we don’t show them the way? We’ve had some trying times as a family, but I truly believe the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
Do you think not being a GM and having more time was necessary for a renewed appreciation of the Church’s prayer and sacramental treasures?
The original catalyst of a renewed and more disciplined approach to my faith was a priest at St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis. I used to routinely meet with him, but especially after I was let go from the Colts.
Father Guy Roberts was instrumental in the healing process and reinforcing the idea that no matter how things appeared, God was still in charge. He kept telling me, “He will not be outdone,” meaning God knows your heart, what you’ve done and dealt with and he alone will make it right in the end.
That gave me great solace and the strength to continue to take the high road. I’ve had a picture on my iPhone since early 2017 of the Eastern Rite icon “Christ the Teacher.” It was another key thing for me to focus on during that time. It’s extra cool because my dad’s side of the family was mainly Slavic and also Byzantine Catholic.
Father Guy, who got to know me well, explained that throughout my life I’ve personally overcome many obstacles because of the tough love I had received from family, teachers, nuns, priests and coaches. He said in the U.S. sometimes we make Jesus into this sort of “Ronald McDonald Jesus” that’s all smiles 24/7, but he explained the Jesus in that icon so revered by Eastern Rite Catholics, including the early Church Fathers, is a solemn Jesus — a Jesus who wants us to do what he commands.
This ardent desire of the Lord is not to weigh us down or to burden us, but to bring about our greater good. I’ll never forget Father’s words when he said to me, “You’ll never meet a tougher coach than Jesus Christ.” It just spoke to me and even talking with you right now, it really stirs me up inside.
Sounds like your trust in God has been challenged, strengthened and refined.
God is so awesome. He knows exactly what we need. I love those Holy Spirit moments where you feel Him like that. There’s really just no news like the Good News, and I’m just so thankful for God’s grace and the people in my life that have revealed our Lord to a guy like me over the years.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (available from Dynamic Catholic),
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews, most of which
have appeared in the Register.